Ad Reinhardt
Year, Birthplace 1913, United States
Year, Place of death 1967
Ad Reinhardt, who had shown great interest in drawing since his teenage years, studied in New York, first reading history of art at Columbia University (one of his professors was the art historian Meyer Schapiro), then, in 1936, studying painting at the American Artists School (with Carl Holty and Francis Criss) and later at the National Academy of Design (with Karl Anderson). Influenced by cubism and by the work of Henry Matisse, in the early 1930s he produced abstract works with geometric motifs and collages that sought inspiration in these two sources. He would never be interested in figuration or surrealism. In the late 1930s, his painting was characterised by flat brightly coloured geometric shapes. He also created collages based on newspaper illustrations. Later, throughout the 1940s, his painting became more ‘expressionist’, employing multiple lines moving in all directions against a monochrome background, with interwoven calligraphy and, later on, juxtapositions of small brightly coloured flat shapes. His painting gradually became simpler via a play of geometric shapes and a reduced number of colours. In 1936 his support for abstract art led him to join the American Abstract Artists (AAA), where he met Stuart Davis. The AAA functioned as both a publisher and an organiser of exhibitions. In 1937, along with Jackson Pollock and Louise Nevelson, he was employed by the Federal Art Project, one of the branches of the Works Progress Administration created during the Great Depression which would operate until 1941. He began working in advertising and printing in 1941 in order to survive but he gave up these activities when he presented his first exhibitions in New York. In 1943 his works were exhibited at the Teachers College Gallery at Columbia University and at the Artists’ Gallery the following year. His first solo exhibition in a gallery was staged in New York in 1946 at the Betty Parsons Gallery, where he would exhibit every year until 1960 and more irregularly thereafter. In the early 1950s, his painting became radicalized in its focus on variations on a single colour: blue, white or red. At the time he belonged to the Hard Edge movement, whose proponents painted bands of pure colour with clearly marked outlines on the canvas. In 1953 he started a series of dark, almost black, paintings. Ad Reinhardt was known for holding sometimes highly passionate views on the broadest range of subjects: he participated in debates on the function of painting and the separation between ‘museum art’ and ‘street art’; he expressed his disagreement with Roberto Matta on the social role of the artist; and he criticised the MoMa’s position on modern art and spent his life protesting about exhibitions in museums or in newspaper articles. In 1944, he returned to studying history of art with Alfred Salmony and worked as a lecturer at Brooklyn College between 1947 and his death in 1967. The occasional lectures that he gave (at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco, 1950; at the University of Wyoming, Laramie, 1951; at Yale University, New Haven, 1952-1953; and at Hunter College, New York, 1959-1967) allowed him to develop his theories, particularly his criticisms of abstract expressionism. His career continued and in 1955 Fortune magazine listed him as one of the twelve most important painters in the art market. In 1960 and 1963 he exhibited at the Iris Clert Gallery in Paris and in 1965 three New York galleries simultaneously exhibited his work, one showing his red paintings, another his blue paintings, and the third his black paintings. In 1966, shortly before his death, a retrospective exhibition staged by the Jewish Museum of New York brought together one hundred and twenty of his works. His economy of means, his rejection of the habitual schemas of painting, and his opposition to a gestural art that was too personal and (in his view) too easy make him one of the precursors of minimal art (a term coined in 1965 by the English philosopher Richard Waldheim in an article published in the Arts Magazine in which he quotes Ad Reinhardt). After his death, Reinhardt’s work was shown all over the world, positioning him as one of the most important abstract painters. AC